‘Airlock’ is quite a find, as it turns out. There are some very interesting, unexpected things in it. Not least, an honest-to-goodness flashback sequence (in dumbshow apart from a voiceover), filmed in first-person POV! This is the sort of stylistic flourish that old-fashioned Who usually didn’t bother with. It ain’t Kubrick, but it’s unusually ambitious by the standards of the time. Also, Stephanie Bidmead – a Shakespearean actress – plays Maaga in a far more physically expressive way than the audios might lead one to believe. She delivers great swathes of her dialogue – which is ostensibly directed to her fellow Drahvins – direct to the audience, staring into the camera. Nothing like that was seen (apart from Tom’s occasional bouts) until Morgus… and even that was an accident.
Of course, charming and fascinating as it is, the story remains hopeless. The Drahvins are a near-perfect illustration of mainstream 60s attitudes towards ‘the woman question’. Contemptuous, we-know-better-dear, patronising smugness at the sheer unworkable, extremist silliness of ‘women’s lib’.
The race of evil alien feminists are marked out from other baddies of the era by their towering stupidity and shambolic incompetence. Despite being ostensibly emotionless clones (drained of all proper female responses) they are hysterical and irrational. They even have a rubbish old ship that (natch) they don’t know how to fix. (Tsch, lady drivers!) Their solution is to find the nearest males (be they Time Lords or pompous alien wallruses) and, in their ditzy confusion, attack them while also petulantly demanding their help. In return, the males must simply consent to be robbed and abandoned. Really, this would be the favourite Doctor Who episode of any MRA tosspot (consult this acute and hilarious site if you don’t know what an MRA is).
There is a strain of cut-price Brave New World-style sneering at ‘Test Tube Modernity’. The flailing Drahvin gynococracy or matriarchy (note: their bosstrix is called Maaaaaaaaga) is steeped in the ostensible horrors of cloning. This meshes directly with the terrified emasculation fantasy lurking beneath the surface of the story’s conception of female independence. They produce a few males (coyly referring to “as many as we need”… ahem) and then cull the rest like excess badgers.
I’m actually surprised Steven Moffat doesn’t like this more.